Wallace and The Battle of Shilo

I’ll be upfront and admit to having little knowledge of the Civil War beyond who fought it and who won.

While I was reading here - (add www).cracked.com/article/208_5-battlefield-screw-ups-that-were-hilarious-until-people-died/ - in the third articloid they rag on General Wallace for: missing a massive battle, fortuitously coming up on the enemy’s rear flank but turining around and leaving and getting to the battle shortly after it was lost.

The Wikipedia bit I read about the battle suggested that Wallace had recieved orders to meet up somewhere and, somewhat confused, followed them.

So could the day’s battle have been won but for Wallace’ absence? And was Wallace a hapless putz or a hapless putz with orders?

Is this Gen. Lew (Bem Hur) Wallace?

One and the same.

According to Shelby Foote, “[Wallace] had marched toward what he thought was such a junction [i.e., a meeting with Grant’s army] as soon as he received Grant’s first order, but then had to countermarch for the river road when he learned that the flank had been thrown back near the landing.”

In other words, Wallace was marching to a point to meet up with Grant, but the Union army had retreated. It wasn’t a good idea to try to link up with Confederate forces, so he had to march back to meet up with the new Union position.

Wallace’s 5000 troops would have helped, but probably not turned the tide the first day. The Confederate attack overwhelmed the Union forces and it took a lot of work on the part of Grant to prevent disaster. At best, Wallace’s men would have help stop the Confederate advance a little sooner, but it would have to wait until the second day for a Union victory (and, since Wallace’s tropps were fresh going into the second day, that helped the North).

Oh, and Wallace was not removed from command; all account indicated he was leading the troops the second day. Grant couldn’t afford to fire him in the middle of a battle.

I was unaware until now that that was the same General Wallace! My English teacher assigned that book to me for a book report my senior year. I’m sure she knew the author’s significance to the area in which we lived:

Although they were fighting for ignorant reasons, those particular Confederate men included amazing stock from Gibson County, Tennessee. They had reputations for being quick, handsome, and skilled at hunting the elusive white squirrels from the northern part of the county. My grandfather was at Shiloh, but was sick and couldn’t fight. Some of them were probably kin to me.

Here is Wallace’s report on the battle:

So it does look like Wallace didn’t get lost, but rather marched to a location that had been overrun by Confederates and had to return to rejoin the Union army.

Some reports after that battle referred to him as “laggard” (probably because he arrived late), but there’s no evidence he was lost.

Note, too, that, contrary to what Cracked says, he did hear the sound of the battle and was marching toward it.

Grant and Sherman were the ones caught with their pants down. Wallace was pretty much blameless in following his original instructions, and faultless in regrouping to repair the disaster as much as possible.

But, if any of you working in corporate America have ever been absent from a meeting for a perfectly legitimate reason, after which the decisions made at that meeting resulted in disaster, and then were blamed for the disaster, you know what happened to Wallace’s reputation.

In a slow-burning fit of pique, Wallace went on to write a novel about a man who ovecomes incredible adversity and injustice after one incident of bad luck (actually, he re-wrote The Count of Monte Christo and included Jesus for added marketability). It was a huge blockbuster, while Grant had to have his memoirs ghost-written by Mark Twain so Grant’s widow wouldn’t starve. Moral of the story: revenge is a dish not only best served cold, but also served with a side of Jesus.

(my great-great grandfather was a sergeant in the 47th Illinois infantry at Shilo. If he was one of the few who stood & fought, I guess I’m proud. If he ran like hell to save his skin, I guess I’m grateful.)

I once read an extensive article about the issue. It’s clear that the main culprit was the “fog of war”. Grant sent an to Wallace telling him to move his troops in a certain way. But while Grant was generally known for the clarity of his orders, on this occasion he screwed up and his order was ambiguous. (There were two possible roads that Wallace could move down that lead to different areas. Grant was apparently unaware of this.) Wallace had to guess what Grant meant and picked what he thought was the better choice and started marching. After a few hours his troops arrived at what could have been a major turning point - by coincidence the road he picked had taken him to a vulnerable Confederate flank and Wallace was preparing to make what would probably have been an effective attack. But just then another messenger arrived from Grant essentially asking “Where the heck have you been? I ordered you to come down this road hours ago.” and this time the other road was specified. Wallace felt he was in a good position right now but he figured Grant was the commander and probably had a better picture of the overall battle. So he withdrew from the good position he was at, marched back almost to the point he had started from, and marched back down the other road to finally arrive where Grant had wanted him to be almost an entire day ago.

The Union won the battle so there was originally no point in arguing over who was at fault. Grant did not make an issue out of Wallace carrying out his orders, as Grant saw them, with such delay. But the casualties had been really high so people did start questioning whether everyone had performed as well as they could have. Grant and Sherman both had made what, in retrospect, were poor decisions. But as the war progressed their reputations had grown and nobody wanted to accuse them of having screwed up at Shiloh. Wallace however was a comparitive unknown. Grant did not say anything directly but some other officers began saying that if Wallace had been were he was supposed to be, the battle would have gone better.

Wallace unfortunately didn’t handle the criticism very well. He felt that he was blameless (which in my opinion was true) and when the rumors of incompetence began to circulate he became very loud in defending his reputation. Unfortunately defending his actions called Grant’s actions into question. Which meant that people had to make a choice between supporting Wallace or Grant. And as I said Grant was now much more prominent than Wallace. Once if became a contest between them personally, Grant’s reputation beat Wallace’s.

Every serious historian agrees that Grant wrote all his memoirs himself. Twain merely published it. Some people with axes to grind spread the rumor that Twain wrote it, but not a single shred of evidence supports that view.

As I understood it, Twain edited as well as published Grant’s Memoirs, and did so as an act of kindness to the financially-strapped General and ex-President, now fatally ill. It would be unreasonable to expect Grant to be a great writer; his skills were in other areas. And anyone who’s ever dealt with publishing knows the value of a good editor.

Why would it have been unreasonable to expect Grant to be a great writer? In the 19th century, you communicated over long distances by writing letters. As others have noted, Grant was usually succinct in writing clear, understandable field orders (Shiloh was an exception), did Mark Twain edit those too? Grant was a college graduate in an era where education put a heavy emphasis on communicating clearly.

Thanks all :smiley:

So the consensus seems to be that Wallace really did nothing wrong except for follow poorly worded orders and butt heads with a national hero and future president. Posterity has been unjustifiably unkind to Mr. Wallace.